Poetry in Music: Bon Iver’s “29 #Strafford APTS”

Bon Iver is a indie folk band founded by singer-songwriter Justin Vernon. Vernon was launched into fame with his first project “For Emma, forever ago” which he wrote in his hometown of Eau Claire. His fame can largely be attributed to his distinctive falsetto and innovation in the folk genre. Bon Iver’s “29 #Strafford APTS” from 22, a million is one of his most poetic and beautiful songs. The song serves as a reminder of the comfort and shelter found in memories. Additionally, it addresses the tragic temptation of trying to change things back to how they were in the past.

The song begins with the narrator reminiscing about a time they smoked pot with their friends in a parking lot. Then in the second verse Vernon continues this story:

Hallucinating Claire

Nor the snow shoe light or the autumns

Threw the meaning out the door

(Now could you be a friend)

There ain’t no meaning anymore

(Come and kiss me here again)

One the first level, Justin Vernon is referring to someone named Claire hallucinating. The chorus refers to smoking pot (rolling up, holding up) so it can be inferred Claire is someone who was smoking and is now tripping on drugs. However, Vernon commonly uses Claire to Allude to his hometown of Eau Claire. He gives a place a name like a person, emphasizing the personal connection to it. Finally, on a third level, the name Claire means clear in french. So juxtaposing hallucinating with clear and then winter (snow shoe light) with autumn makes Eau Claire seem unrestricted by the limitations of time. This larger than life depiction of Eau Claire further emphasizing Vernon’s strong connection to his hometown.

In the next verse, Vernon tries to put the memories of Eau Claire he has been talking about behind him:

Fold the map and mend the gap

And I tow the word companion

And I make my self escape

Vernon uses sea ship metaphors to address how he has to move on from his past. A person folds a map when they get to their destination and are done navigating. Therefore, when Vernon folds the map he is done with his nostalgic journey. Additionally, towing the word companion is a metaphor for how Vernon is dragged down by his attachment to his former relationship.

In the last chorus of the song, Vernon comes back to the present. He describes the event that triggered him to think about the past:

I hold the note

You wrote and know

You’ve buried all your alimony butterflies

Vernon describes how the narrator is holding the note that their partner gave to them. “Alimony” is a popular legal term that refers to the money paid by an individual to a former partner, usually court ordered during divorce procedures. Therefore, Vernon looks at a note that seems to have lead to a divorce. On a metaphorical level, Narcissus ‘Alimony’ is a type of flower. One of the flower’s pollinators are butterflies. Since the other person has buried these butterflies it means they have lost there chance at getting Alimony by giving this note.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s